Mistletoe: APS Holiday Press Release

Diane Karasevicz dmk8 at CORNELL.EDU
Thu Dec 19 09:16:01 EST 1996

>Press Release of the American Phytopathological Society, Office of Public
>Affairs and Education:
>Trees Attacked by Christmas Mistletoe.  True or False?
>While the Turkey's Baking, Take this Holiday Quiz.
>If  Santa thinks that he has his hands full at Christmas, consider the
>plight of the plant doctors. They worry year-round about mistletoe killing
>forest trees!
>Put the turkey in the oven and take this holiday quiz brought to you by The
>American Phytopathological Society whose members are dedicated to
>controlling plant diseases.
>1.  Mistletoe grows "magically" without touching the ground.
>True. It's hard to imagine but mistletoe is a parasitic plant. Mistletoe's
>root-like structures penetrate tree limbs to obtain nutrients and water. On
>the limb, a bushy, evergreen mistletoe plant grows producing green leaves
>and white berries. Since mistletoe grows without ever touching the soil,
>ancient people believed mistletoe was a divine gift sent by the gods.
>2. Mistletoe has been used in religious ceremonies and as a "ghost buster."
>True.  Druid priests gathered mistletoe with a golden sickle onto white
>cloths to prevent it from touching the ground and burnt it as a sacrifice to
>their gods.  In Germany, it was believed that evil spirits were forced out
>of hiding when mistletoe was brought into haunted houses.
>3.  Mistletoe can destroy forest trees.
>True. A smaller less showy dwarf mistletoe attacks and may even kill forest
>trees. Instead of broad green leaves, dwarf mistletoe leaves are narrow and
>resemble arborvitae or juniper leaves. While many species of Christmas trees
>are susceptible to dwarf mistletoes, there are few problems in Christmas
>tree plantations,
>because growers work with plant pathologists to minimize the impacts of tree
>4.  Kissing under the mistletoe is a custom started during George
>Washington's administration.
>False. Although no one knows for sure when this custom began, some trace
>this holiday custom to Europe. In the Middle Ages, enemies would hug beneath
>the mistletoe to form a truce. Mistletoe decorated entryways in homes where
>hosts would embrace their guests.
>5.  Besides using mistletoe to encourage romance, this poisonous plant was
>used for medicinal purposes.
>True.  In the Middle Ages, amulets were worn to ward off illness.  In Japan
>and England, women were advised to eat mistletoe leaves to promote
>conception.  Today we know that it is highly poisonous.
>6.  Since mistletoes can kill trees, they should be eradicated.
>False. According to Fred A. Baker, Jr., forest pathologist, Utah State
>University, mistletoes are part of an ecological community. Many bird
>species eat the mistletoe berry and inadvertently carry the seeds to other
>trees.  Other birds and small mammals use the infection site on the host for
>nest structures.  Humans use plant parts as part of our cultural celebration
>of Christmas.  Thus, mistletoes can be beneficial.  However, if we modify
>that ecosystem in such a way that mistletoes occur at abnormally high
>levels, they can cause too much damage to their hosts, and they damage the
>trees that birds and mammals need for food and shelter; they also damage the
>wood fiber that our society values.  Plant pathologists are researching ways
>to understand and maintain a balance between the ecological values provided
>by mistletoes and other parasites, and the damage they do to the forests.
>7.  The 5,000 members of the American Phytopathological Society (APS) work
>year round to make sure your holiday ornamental plants as well as your
>holiday feasts are kept healthy.
>True.  The word "phyto" is Latin for plant and "pathological" means study of
>diseases. APS members are plant doctors who generally have earned Ph.D.
>degrees in plant science.  They are dedicated to plant health management in
>agricultural, urban and forest settings. Access their web site at
>http://www.scisoc.org/ to learn more about plant pathology.

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